Seahawks' Center Battle Intensifies as Ethan Pocic Deals With Hamstring Injury

Ethan Pocic's hamstring injury has created a massive opportunity for the rest of the Seahawks' centers. This is an early element to Seattle's training camp that Pete Carroll recognized himself. While we wait to see how much action Pocic will miss, the next man up, Kyle Fuller, has been handed his shot at the first string.
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We’ve enjoyed just two days of Seahawks training camp, yet positional battles have already grown in intensity. One example is the wide receiver No. 3 spot, where Dee Eskridge starting camp on the PUP list has flung the area wide open. Seahawk Maven's Ty Dane Gonzalez covered this on Friday. However, another competitive duel is taking place at center.

Seattle re-signed 2017 second-round pick Ethan Pocic to a one-year, $2 million deal this offseason. As the calendar flips to August, the incumbent starting center Pocic is nursing a hamstring injury that has generated a massive opportunity for the few men below him on the depth chart.

“Ethan came into camp with a, just, still a nagging hamstring thing,” Pete Carroll told reporters in his opening press conference on July 28. “He went through the whole walkthrough today, but we didn’t use him. We’re gonna keep him alive in all of the walkthrough snaps. Like Duane [Brown], they get a ton of reps in the first practice of the day. And then just make sure that we wait that out.”

How long the waiting out process for Pocic will be remains unclear. Pocic, who turns 26 years old in August, has already missed two practices and is expected to be out until at least late next week. Our own Corbin Smith, attending all of the Seahawks' practices, reported on the situation on Friday:

“There was status that we could have put him on, PUP or NFI things and all that, but we thought that it would be better for the development, for all of us, if we could keep him out there and be patient and make sure that we don’t rush him back,” Carroll assessed. 

Pocic taking part in walkthroughs means he will not fall behind in terms of Shane Waldron’s new offensive install. If the Seahawks had decided to place Pocic on the physically unable to perform or non-football injury lists, the center would not have been able to participate in the walkthroughs.

The competitive element is fascinating, though. When Carroll was asked which position battle he was most excited to see play out this summer, the coach’s mind immediately travelled towards the center spot.

“There’s a number of them, there’s a number of positions that guys are battling for playing time,” Carroll began. “I don’t know whether it’s starter or not starter kinda thing, although Kyle Fuller is ready to battle with Pocic.”

Seattle’s undrafted free agent center Pier-Olivier Lestage has started camp on the NFI list. The Seahawks also have Brad Lundblade on their roster, a 2018 undrafted free agent. However, the clear advantage is with Fuller, a man entering his fourth year in the league.

“It gives Kyle Fuller a fantastic opportunity to show what he’s gonna do, which, you know, competitively, we want that Wally Pipp thing to happen,” assessed Carroll.

The 27-year old Fuller was drafted by the Texans out of Baylor in the seventh round of the 2017 NFL Draft. In 2019, the Seahawks signed the 6-foot-5, 320-pounder to their practice squad. Seattle then tendered him as an exclusive rights free agent following the 2020 season. 

At the NFL combine, Fuller measured in with 34 1/8-inch arms, which is a major plus for the Seahawks given how highly they value arm length (they typically look for 33 inches or more on the interior of the offensive line). Fuller started only one game in 2020; it was a nightmarish, Week 10 road trip to Los Angeles, where took the place of a concussed Pocic to face Aaron Donald and the Rams' defensive line. Now he has a shot at more regular action.

His chances look more promising when considering how the Seahawks' organization views Pocic. After all, Pocic is not as highly rated by Seattle as you may have initially thought. Even before the former LSU alum's hamstring injury arose, I envisioned the center position as a training camp storyline to keep an eye on. I explained:

“The team already tried to replace/aggressively push Pocic by signing B.J. Finney during last year's free agency period. In the end, Pocic won the job after Finney showed up to camp out of shape, and the latter was eventually moved to Cincinnati in a trade for [Carlos] Dunlap.

"Pocic is a solid center. However, his weaknesses are consistent and cap certain elements of the offense. For instance: he struggles one-on-one in pass protection or in the run game, which could really frustrate Waldron as he tries to get his center to reach block dudes one-on-one on outside zone runs.”